I get all kinds of weird questions in my e-mail inbox. Sometimes they’re creepy, sometimes they’re hilarious, sometimes they’re interesting, and sometimes they’re a part of a pattern. This is one of those patterns. A few times a month I’ll get the following question:

What is the best Japanese Language electronic dictionary?

Once I get the same question too many times, there’s a good likelihood that I’ll just write the answer via a post here, which is exactly what’ I’m doing. So, what is the best Japanese Language electronic dictionary out there? Let’s find out.

The Best Japanese Language Electronic Dictionary Is… Not a Japanese Language Electronic Dictionary…

Guh-what? You’d think that if you were in the market to buy an electronic dictionary you’d buy an electronic dictionary… at least in the “traditional” sense. You can see pictures of them above. Now, for sure, they do the things they’re supposed to do, but that’s about it. If you buy one, you probably won’t be disappointed on this front. You’ll be able to look up words, see sentences, and in some hear audio. Not too shabby.

For me, though, I don’t feel like that’s enough, at least not in this day and age. Even though these do exactly what you want them to do, I don’t think they’re the best tool for the job. Here’s why:

  • They’re big (though the big screen could be considered a plus)
  • They’re bulky, try putting one of the regular sized ones in your pocket
  • They aren’t versatile
  • They’re expensive (approximately $200-$400+)

By now, I bet you’ve already guessed the “electronic dictionary” that I’d recommend.

Get An iPod Touch / iPhone Instead Of a Japanese Electronic Dictionary

Instead of a Japanese language electronic dictionary, I highly recommend you get an iPhone or iPod Touch. I think it’s an easy decision, but that’s also because I’m an Apple fanboy. Still, I think anyone will see the logic here.

  • An iPod Touch comes in at $179 (if you buy it at Costco) or $199 from the Apple store. This is the same price as the lower end models of the Japanese electronic dictionaries, but you get so much more.
  • You can download a dictionary application to your iPhone or iPod Touch. My favorite is “Japanese” because everything is stored locally (i.e. no need for an internet connection to look things up). This app is $16, which is pretty expensive for an iPhone app, but well worth it if you were planning on putting down $200-$400+ on an electronic dictionary. Update: A lot of people seem to like “Kotoba” as well. I haven’t tried it, but it seems to be highly recommended (and free!)
  • There are tons of other Japanese language learning related applications in the iTunes store as well. There are so many different things you can get (and who knows what will come out in the future), making it an awesome (mobile) platform for practicing your Japanese.
  • You can download Japanese Podcasts to your iPod / iPhone, and listen to them for continued practice while you’re driving, sitting around, at work, at school, etc.
  • You can do other things with it, so you aren’t just pinned down to using it to study Japanese (you know, all the things an iPod Touch / iPhone are supposed to do, right?).

So, basically it’s better, more mobile, has apps, and costs less. What is there not to like? Granted, regular Japanese electronic dictionaries have their perks, too, I’m sure, but I personally don’t see the purpose of getting one when you could do this instead.

If that didn’t convince you, watch this video, which just says the same things you just read all over again.

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Anyone else doing the same thing? Any angry Japanese electronic dictionary users out there? Let me know in the comments what you think.

  • jrabernethy

    I bought an iPod touch partially for language learning, and I have to say it is an excellent device all around. Very versatile. Looking up Kanji with handwriting recognition is a pain, but other than that, it fulfills just about all my needs as a Japanese dictionary. Only problem is I use it more for Plants vs. Zombies and Doodle Jump (-_-), but that is a problem with my discipline than with the device.

    I also am currently tutoring an Arab student in English, and sometimes I break out my iTouch for an Arab dictionary. Although decidedly poor in comparison to “Japanese,” why buy one Japanese dictionary when you can get a device with multiple dictionaries?

    I wish there was a “talking” dictionary app though.

  • Jeremy Rosario Domasian

    For those that have an Android phone, you don't need to buy anything! Go grab Aedict from the Android Market. It's free, has kanji drawing recognition, example sentences, and a helluva lot more. And for Japanese input on Android, I suggest either Simeji or FlickWnn. Both are also free and work flawlessly.

  • koichi

    Thanks! Great to know for all the Android folks out there!

  • koichi

    Haha… those are the two games I have on my iPhone as well. Addicting :(

  • SarahXin


    It's free, it uses jim breen's jdic, it has everything from favorite lists to example sentences (!!!!) to MULTIRADICAL KANJI LOOKUP AAAHH <3 to stroke order animations and it's all stored right on your iPod with no wifi required!!!!

    Yeah sorry for all the caps but I really, really, really love Kotoba. I'm bringing it with me to Japan this summer and I specifically asked my counselors (I'm going with a student group and we're not allowed to have cell phones etc) if I could keep my iPod with me just for the sake of the dictionary. Never tried “Japanese,” but why would I want to when I have everything I've ever needed for free…

  • Gianluca Tranchedone

    I prefer “Kotoba!” on my iPhone: it's free, it's often being update, there are many many features (ex. you can write kanji with your finger, save words in folders, look up kanji by strock count, using the SKIP method, by lecture, send your favorite words via email, etc.). The only feature which is still missing on Kotoba! is that you haven't the ability to make flashcards out of your saved words. However it's really amazing! I've been using it all the time when I went to Japan for a 3 months Japanese class! No other electronic dictionaries! :)

  • Gianluca Tranchedone

    Me too! They're HUGE!!

  • Tiffany

    I would totally recommend Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten if you already have a DS! The handwriting recognition works great with the stylus. You can easily find a copy for $50-60, or I was even able to find mine for $35. (I wouldn't mind putting down the money for an iPhone/iTouch, but the monthly internet fee just isn't feasible for us.)

  • koichi

    Cool – I haven't tried it, but updated the article to include this – I've seen lots of people recommending it! THanks!

  • koichi

    Awesome – I haven't tried it, but updated the article to include this – I've seen lots of people recommending it! THanks!

  • girasola

    How about this one for a talking dictionary app?

    I've been using it for awhile, and it's really good.

  • girasola

    I have this too, and recommend it :) It even has quizzes and stuff – great for practicing!

  • Chimiko

    They make electronic dictionaries in China for English too, and I agree they don't work at all. They don't really help you retain all that you learn.

  • Tiff-Taro

    Thanks! I just downloaded it and it's awesome! More love for Android <3

    As a side note I like the JLPT Practice app by Saora, its free and comes with Dictionary, Flash Cards, Kanji of the Day, and JLPT vocab. All broken up into the test levels. But to get their JLPT practice tests they cost 350¥. If you plan to take the JLPT test this the best app I've found for it so far.

  • Russell Mull

    You usually get what you pay for, with dictionaries. eDic is decidedly ok; it worked for me at first, but became less and less useful as I started reading. I recommend iEijiro (i英辞郎) for J-E, and Daijirin(大辞林) for J-J. They'll cost you a bit, but the content is great. iEijiro unfortunately doesn't show you many readings, which is a a pain, but it has lots of idioms. Daijirin has a custom kanji input method that actually works for Japanese consistently, unlike using the traditional chinese IME like many people recommend. And the interface is SWEET. It's J-J, but it's very well linked so you can usually figure things out. It's good for you, anyway.

  • Hungryscholar

    I second the motion for 大辞林. Absolutely amazing app. The kanji input recognition is incredibly forgiving, and the actual content (albeit J-J) is great for advanced learners. Beats buying a high-end electronic dictionary to get the same kanji input capabilities.

  • Misha

    I disagree with Koichi and the other Apple fanboys. I own both an ipod touch and a Japanese electronic dictionary. I use the ipod touch primarily for listening to music — it's great for that. But whenever I have to do any serious study (like read a Japanese maths textbook or a research paper), I use the electronic dictionary. Why?

    1) Keyboard. I don't care how fast you are with your thumbs or whatever, keyboard entry is always going to be faster and more accurate. Navigation around menus, etc. is also faster when your hands aren't in the way. Touch displays look cool and have their benefits, but as far as data entry goes they are miles behind keyboards.

    That's pretty much the main reason. Speed of lookup matters a lot if you're processing large volumes of stuff (first couple of pages of a new research paper are always a nightmare), or if you don't have the opportunity to slow things down (e.g. you're in a lecture). If it takes more than 5-6 sec. to look things up, you may as well not bother and try to guess from context. Falling behind is really not an option here.

    I can think of other reasons:

    2) Real Japanese handwriting recognition. I'm sorry if this upsets anybody out there, but the built-in handwriting recognition on the ipod touch (can't talk about the iphone, never owned one) is just shit. Maybe it's alright for Chinese Hanzi entry, but for Japanese it's plain useless other than for the most basic Kanji, which you should know anyway without reaching for the dictionary. Handwriting input methods provided by individual apps (like Daijisen, for example) are better, but support is still flaky. Until the software lets me handwrite at the same speed as I do on paper (the electronic dictionary and PC come pretty close), I'm not going to bother.

    This not only includes the Kanji currently in use, but also older Kanji. It's pretty much impossible to read pre-war novels without a lookup method that supports older characters in their Japanese form.

    3) Battery life. The electronic dictionaries live for around 200 hours on a pair of AA batteries. How many trips to the power point is that with an iphone/ipod touch?

    Yeah, they're less versatile. Yeah, they're more expensive. Those are all valid points. If you're on a budget, or if you pride yourself on being able to do everything in the world with a single device like millions of other Apple fanboys do, then perhaps the electronic dictionary is not for you. But if owning one means you get to go home an hour or so earlier every day, then in my opinion it's worth it.

    Just fyi — it's a Casio Ex-word xd9800. I got it on the “cheap” from my uni co-op shop, but it still cost 33000 yen.

  • Alex Michaelson


  • Alex Michaelson

    Hey Tofugu, nice post.

    I'm currently in the 8th month of my year studying abroad in Japan through a university exchange, and I and most of the other Americans here (as well as increasing numbers of European students) are using iPod Touches (or iPhones for some).

    I use “Kotoba!” every day–got my iTouch from eBay for about $135, so that's about a third the price of some of those “regular” electronic dictionaries. It's absolutely indispensable while living in Japan, looking up words, studying, using in class, and so on. If I were a professional translator, then I could see a good reason to get one of the traditional models, but for real students who take their Japanese seriously, the iTouch is a very good option. Highly recommended from several exchange students currently living in Japan! If you live in Japan or are serious about Japanese, I'd recommend the iTouch. It's the sole reason why I bought mine (to study Japanese; actually, for its electronic dictionary feature), and it's some of the best money I've ever spent.

  • Cokebotle

    Also, if you use Anki for flashcards, it's completely free for Android users. Plus, if you haven't heard of Swype, it's a great alternative input method editor, and will support Japanese once fully launched (It may cost, I'm not sure. But if it works like the English IME, it will be fantastic and totally worth it, in my opinion!)

  • Chris Matchett

    I see my electronic dictionary as an investment. It will last much longer than an Apple product in battery terms as well as usage. They are quick and easy to use and the included dictionaries have way more in them than the free options.
    However there's no reason not to either have both or just start with the alternative devices and then upgrade when you need to. In my case I went directly to the final device.

  • Will

    I got the 'Japanese' app and it's great! thought if you were going to tell people this, you should have also included a little bit of information on how to change your international keyboards, I had a lot of trouble getting the ability to get the keyboard to draw kanji with my finger. Anyhowww…. it's an awesome app and all my Japanese teachers are jealous and asked me how to get it, they didn't know you had to buy an iPhone or an iPod Touch first, so they were a bit let down.

  • Albi K

    While I can't speak for electronic dictionarys, the Shinkanji app (coupled with a stylus for those so inclined) solves the issue of substandard kanji hand writing recognition on the iDevice.

  • Albi K

    As well as the already mentioned Japanese and Kotoba!, I make use of Shinkanji for identifying kanji I don't recognise. Knowledge of stroke order is a must but you can still work your way around it.

  • Elliott
  • Misha

    Good to see support to handwriting input improving for the iDevices. I hope eventually Apple realises the mistake it has made with dismissing separate Japanese handwriting input as part of the OS. Even with shinkanji, you still have to wrestle with copy & paste to get the handwritten characters into the dictionary app of your choice. Hardly an elegant solution.

    There's a deeper part to the problem as well. While the majority of the world is happily using UTF character encoding, Japan uses a separate family of character encodings (e.g. Shift-JIS, there are others). There's a reason — Shift-JIS contains characters that aren't in UTF (for various reasons). This means unless you're running a device that supports displaying Shift-JIS (or friends), you may not be able to see the exact character you want — you'll see an amended version of it if you're lucky, or plain jibberish if you're not.

    I'm not 100% sure how well the iDevices support such characters, but if Apple's attitude towards handwriting recognition is anything to go by, my guess would be they don't support them at all.

  • Will Salazar

    Koichi! you should really give Kotoba a once over. not only is it a straight Japanese to English dictionary, but it also has the option to translate to many other languages. it comes in handy for those of us who are fluent in another language and are pickin up japanese as the 3rd or 4th

  • Steve

    I'm using my ipod touch to enhance my japanese using the following apps:

    kotoba (dictionary)
    kanatap (practice kana)
    kana lite (practice kana) (client for the fabulous

  • meroigo

    I go to a Japanese language school in Japan, and I also chose an iPod Touch (32GB) with Japanese, the fall last year. Because of me, like, five or more people in my school has bought an iPod Touch only to buy Japanese. People that have bought one of those clumsy super expensive ones has then seen the guys using the iPods, and expressed regret of them not buying that instead. Also, people I have showed it too here in Japan all agrees on that is much more convenient that one of the traditional ones. :P

    Also, when it comes to a situation where a word needs to be looked up, and I'm with someone carrying a traditional one, I always get to the translation faster with my iPod. Booyaaahh!!!

    I deserve some kind of compensation from Apple and CodeFromTokyo. ;D

  • meroigo

    The Japanese cellphone style input in the iPod Touch you can choose is very fast. And no, you don't have to “tap tap tap tap” on each button to get to the right kana, you either just press one time on the button (corresponds the “a” sound), or draw from the base of a button to left (“i”), up (“u”), right (“e”) and down (“o”). Most people don't know this (you guys that don't know this, try it out! :D it's awesome). Writing like this can become super fast with training and I am much faster with that than writing on a keyboard. I miss a touchscreen with that kind of input on my Japanese cellphone when i type mails. :(

  • Cuavsfan

    I've had an iPhone for a couple of years and about 80% of my usage of it is for Japanese “stuff.” Apps I recommend:

    Japanese (as mentioned above)
    Kotoba! (Japanese is a bit better IMO, but this one is really solid, especially considering it's free)
    Daijirin (J<->J dictionary, $15-20, very good)
    SkyBook (read Japanese eBooks, download them direct from aozora or add your own, “integrates” with daijirin)
    Kanji Flip / Japanese Flip (flash card apps for kanji / words, the great thing is that you can open it and be going in just a second, perfect for filling those few down minutes)
    eijiro (I actually like this better than the paid version iEijiro — the free one requires a web connection but is much better as it will search for words inside of sample sentences)
    LadioTouch (Listen to Livedoor radio feeds)

  • jdduq

    I also love Kotoba! It got a lot of use when I was in Japan last summer. It's just a great app and it's free.
    I seem to have many issues with the app tho… it's very buggy. Anyone else has problems with it or it's just me?

  • Mark Tosiello

    I'm with you. I have both Japanese and Kotoba, and I think I tend to use Kotoba more, because it's must more intuitive to me. Excellent post tho. Glad to know my decision to use my iPhone for Japanese Mobile Learning was a good one!!!!

  • Job Suarez

    I bought an Ipod Touch just for this app called “Japanese” and I wouldn´t have wanted anymore from it. It's very esay to use, no Wifi connection nedded, (you can look up for words, kanji, onomatopeya, phrasal verbs, etc.), it shows verbs conjugation, a big big database (156,967 items on version 2.2) and has kanji recognition.

    I use another app called “Wisho Touch” just to look up for kanjis I don't recognize cause it´s easier to find a kanji out of the stroke order (I guess it has a better search engine than the japanese app) but I just use it for this function, other than that I prefer “Japanese”

    And just as you said it has a lot more great apps like Bejeweled 2, The impossible game (yeah the xbox one), all kinds of english dictionaries (I'm Mexican so I use them to learn) and a lot more. GET AN IPOD TOUCH NOOOOW. Greets.

  • Jeremy Rosario Domasian

    What prevented me from recommending AnkiDroid was that they still haven't implemented synchronization yet and won't be implemented for a while, judging from this thread response:…. I'm constantly watching their progress and can't wait until they put in sync, then I'll be an unstoppable studying machine!

    Swype is excellent. I have no idea how they'll be able to pull off Japanese input using the Swype method, but I'm sure they'll do an amazing job.

  • Harvey

    I have both an iPod Touch and a Casio EX-Word 9600 dictionary. I use both. The iPod is my quick fix when I'm out and about, because I *always* have it with me, but the Casio dictionary is what I use when I really need to figure out Japanese.

    I use Kotoba on the iPhone and also have Japanese language podcasts.

    The dictionary in the Ex-Word is far, far, more extensive than the dictionary in the iPod.

    I'm glad I have both though, because when I'm out and about I do not have my EX-Word with me most of the time. It's too big and bulky.

    But when I'm at home studying or doing translation work, I need my Ex-Word. I *never* reach for the iPhone dictionary when my Casio is in reach. There is just no comparison.

    Not everyone has the money for both – but if you're serious about learning Japanese I wouldn't rule out a real electronic dictionary!

  • Rich Fowler

    For iPhone/iTouch, I prefer the Kenkyuusha J-E/E-J dictionary over any of the EDICT based apps, mostly because it's a real dictionary edited by professional editors. Same goes for the Daijirin app. The downside with both is that both cost in the $20-30 range. (Ouch.) And the iPhone's keyboard switching is annoying and slow. Drawing kanji on the trad. CHN keyboard is annoying and slower, and gives me a headache. The stylus on a good denshi jisho is much faster, much more accurate, feels much more natural.

    Kotoba and Japanese both are EDICT apps. Not thrilled with Japanese by CFT charging so much for something that's essentially free. (EDICT) And EDICT isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's better than nothing, but I'd put it on the bottom of the pile.

    I recently switched my main phone to a Nexus One, and I've been playing with DroidWing, an excellent EPWING reader for Android phones. DroidWing will also let you search online dictionaries at the same time as you search your EPWING dictionaries, all from one search box.

    But EPWING dictionaries can be expensive unless you already own them. If you do, it's nice to be able to take them with you on your phone. There are also EPWING readers for iOS, but I believe you have to jailbreak to run them. There are some incredibly useful EPWING dictionaries out there, though, and if you can afford them, they're worth the investment. (EPWING dictionaries are electronic search-able versions of the same paper dictionaries. They're somewhat big in Japan.)

    Now, all that said, the first thing I reach for when I want to look up a word is my 3 year old Sharp electronic dictionary. It's the fastest, the most comprehensive, and it just has the best interface. Kanji recognition is the most accurate and best suited to Japanese (iPhone lacks here, Android lacks even more), keyboarding speed is the fastest, because you get an actual keyboard. Same goes for lookup time– from the moment I have the urge to look up a word to the moment I get the answer, it's hard to beat the denshi jisho (or denshi jiten).

    Of course, the downside is buying one. A lot of importers will try to rip you off on the price. Caveat Emptor. Check for the best prices on the model you want before you buy from an importer. Better yet, wait to buy one until you go to Japan, or get a friend/relative over there to buy one for you. You'll get a better deal.

    I got mine for ~$250 in Nagoya at Bic Camera. You can get them for cheaper if you know where to look.

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  • Rainbowhill

    The biggest advantage an iPhone (or android phone) has over any electronic dictionary is that it is a multifunction device. As much as I love the Kanji Sono Mama on the Nintendo DS, it is a pain to switch cartridges when I want to do something slightly different. So much so that it might as well be a single function device.

    It's great to see all the different ways people are using their phones to learn Japanese. So cool!

  • JMB

    You nail it exactly in the first few lines of your comment. Maybe EDICT is good for people that just started japanese, but if you wan to tell the difference between two similar words or something like that, you're screwed with EDICT.
    I even went as far as to buy the Kenkyusha New Japanese-English Dictionary (新和英大辞典) which is about 120$…
    Why? Well, before it came out for the iPhone I already had it as a book and i's the most comprehensive Japanese-English dictionary out there.

    As far as speed goes: Is nobody using the Kana entry method on the iPhone? I found it to be way faster for me than even using m computers keyboard…

  • Mark

    Let me make an addition: in April, my partners and I released Japanese Flash, which is based on the same EDICT dictionary that Kotoba! and Japanese use, but focuses on vocabulary flash card study ala Japanese Flip (trust me, it's MUCH better than Japanese Flip… that's one of the reasons we were inspired to make it).

    At $6.99 US or 800 yen (sorry, it's Apple's funny pricing tiers), it's cheaper than “Japanese” if you're looking for EDICT+flash cards. We've also done a features/comparison page here:

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  • Dio

    I started studying Japanese more then a decade ago. The dictionaries are not so big as they used to be. There are lots of different options, including cheap ones. My dictionary, a SEIKO SR-M4000 cost me 10000 yen. It is not bulky either. It is not versatile, as you say. And I don't like its screen. So perhaps, the ipod touch is just an alternative to real eletronic dictionaries.

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  • Niels Kobschätzki

    I think in a similar fashion as Misha. The iPhone is great and I like Kotoba and Japanese. Nice dictionaries but there are several flaws when you have to really work on texts (in my case texts from ministries, specialized texts (in my case usually economics, politics), laws, longer newspaper articles etc).

    I don't care about the keyboard and I do not care about the handwriting recognition anymore. Fortunately I know enough readings that I can usually cope or guess correctly. Before that it was a great help. But when I am working on texts I have my iMac as well in front of me and there I have means to search fast for kanji with the help of radicals (in rare cases I use my iPhone).

    But the iPhone-dictionaries have several flaws:
    1) They are slow. Even so I type reasonably fast, the speed of all the dictionaries I tried in finding words is slower than with my electronic dictionary.
    2) Most use the JMDict as a dictionary base. The JMDict is great and I do not want to miss it but often enough there are words that are just plain missing. Or you get tons of japanese words for one English or German word and have to guess which one is the right one.
    3) If there are example sentences they are from the Tatoeba-project. It's also a very good project but you never actually know what the quality of an example sentence is because there are Japanese sentences translated by English native speakers to Japanese and vice versa. The example sentences in an electronic dictionary are usually trustworthy.
    4) Good kokugo-dictionaries cost on the iPhone a lot of money (usually round about 100 bucks…) but in contrast to my electronic dictionary I have no idea how good they work (interface-wise). Electronic dictionaries are an “old” technology and they are mostly the same. They just work.
    And if you are on a level that you can kokugo-dictionaries, you don't want to miss them. They have more entries and really good explanations.

    I have to agree on the battery life – it's really good w/ electronic dictionaries.

    It's nice to have a dictionary on the iPhone but it can't beat the electronic dictionary if you want to do some serious work. But in that case you want to have access to as many dictionaries as you can. My edict-client uses a dozen dictionaries, then there's and my electronic dictionary. All are in use because none is complete.

    Btw. I'm using a Casio Ex-word Dataplus 3 (xd-gw7150). In my opinion ex-words are very good. Do not get the newest model because that's usually just more expensive and has another not so much used feature (like mine has two fields for handwriting recognition and newer ones have four). More expensive gets you usually more dictionaries but look up what dictionaries are included. They should also be extendable (in that case they have an sd-card-slot and you can buy dictionaries from Casio)

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  • Matt

    I would also recommend jed for android, it is free and looks a lot like “japanese” for iphone.
    Although I also mainly use simeji, some might find HanWriting interesting ( kanji recognition ime ).

  • narutolost

    I bought a Japanese dictionary for almost $300. I considered the Ds/Iphone/ipod touch route, but I figured I never would use the other features. And besides, the Japanese dictionary I bought has the jump function, and lots more words.

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  • Donald Reynolds

    I agree iOS app are the way to go!

    One very helpful app is iEijiro. It is great for looking up common phrases and sayings.

    Also, I just found a free app called Lost in Japan that uses OCR (optical character recognition) to read Kanji. It is a bit unstable and you have to cut and patse to a dictionary to look up words that use that Kanji , but it is pretty cool for free. Also, WishoTouch, an app simular to the afore mentioned Japanese, has a $10 module available as an in app purchase the also uses OCR to lookup kanji. WishoTouch is more expensive than Japanese, but compared to the price of Japanese electronic dictionaries one can buy both and still save a bundle.

  • Pchamberland

    By far the best for an english language speaker is the product designed by Peter Rivard – check it out at:

  • stephenmpeterson

    I use an english 550G Pocket PC flashed to the japanese version and loaded with translation software :) Works perfect especially for kanji lookup by drawing them :) Fits in your pocket and has a 4 inch screen.

  • Matthew Chan

    Nintendo DS dictionary is not bad too!

  • Dreamerflickrmail

    Although the answer will vary depending on the individual, I think an actual electronic dictionary is a better choice. They're specifically made for studying language and are incredibly functional. They often hold multiple dictionaries and other resources in one device. Some offer very well tuned handwriting input features.

    Some people might find an Apple device like the iPhone or the iPod Touch to be useful, especially if they already own or plan to own those devices. Some people, like myself, have little to no interest in said devices and would rather spend money on a device that approaches things differently from an Apple device. This isn't Apple-hatred; rather, some people aren't overcome with uncontrollable desire to own everything Apple releases. Some of their products are pretty good, but not all of them are for me.

    Some people cite the size of an electronic dictionary as a problem. This issue, I think, depends entirely on what one's own definition of what “portable” is. In my case, I'm used to carrying actual paper dictionaries, which is relatively inconvenient. That's not all. I'm used to carrying around a camera bag (DSLR camera) much of the time. I suppose it's sort of my “man-purse”. Yeah, I said it. An electronic dictionary is rather small compared to things I carry around.
    So, how big is my electronic dictionary? Actually, it's about the size of a standard bunkobon (a relatively standard-sized paperback Japanese book). Considering I often carry at least one bunkobon around, it's hardly an inconvenience to carry something that size around.
    Of course, for those who aren't used to carrying anything but something cellphone-sized, an electronic dictionary might be a bit inconvenient. There are smaller, more compact dictionaries out there, but their features seem to be a bit more limited, and, of course, have smaller screens.

    The cost of an electronic dictionary can be, as mentioned in the article, a bit expensive, but I think it's important to carefully consider various dictionaries before buying one. Some are far more expensive than others, but don't offer a clear advantage to one a bit cheaper. For example, some of the high end dictionaries now have color LCD displays and even TV tuners. Those sort of features shouldn't be high on the list of reasons to buy a dictionary…
    For those who are only studying Japanese casually or happen to be beginners, an electronic dictionary is probably the wrong choice. For those who constantly read Japanese literature and need a reliable dictionary to help in those situations you're blindsided by a flurry of words you never knew existed, an electronic dictionary may be a good choice.

    Let us not forget about handwriting recognition. In general, I've heard mixed things about handwriting recognition on an Apple device. I'll admit, I've never tried handwriting on an iPhone or iPod, but I don't think I've heard outrageously stellar responses about handwriting recognition on those devices. However, on electronic dictionaries, the handwriting recognition can be great. I rarely ever have a problem with my dictionary not being able to understand my writing, even when I'm too lazy to write neatly. I can write in gyousho (semi-cursive script), and my dictionary recognizes what I'm trying to write.

    “Jump” features are incredibly useful in an electronic dictionary as well.

    Which option is best? It may simply be about convenience for some people, which, for some, would mean apps on an Apple device. Some, on the other hand, need a specialized device for studying Japanese. In terms of functionality and capabilities for Japanese study, I think a dedicated electronic dictionary is best.

  • random.mind.state

    I'd still prefer an electronic dictionary over the iphone add -thing. Because really learning Japanese for me is also trying to use a Japanese-Japanese dictionary , and what about classical (written) Japanese. My electronic dictionary has a special dictionary just for that, which has proven to be VERY helpful. I don't have an iPhone so I can't say for sure, but I doubt it has that. So I say..for people who just need a quick Japanese-English look-up-dictionary, this iPhone app seems cool, but for really LEARNING Japanese and understanding certain structures….yeeeeaaah….not so much.

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  • Heiangirl

    I have iPod Apps, one of the higher end Casio's and my original mistakenly purchased Canon electronic…(seldom use) plus paper dict.'s and the computer. (Thank heavens I'm working!) I like them all! I don't have to go over all the plus and minuses that have been stated so clearly above. I often am using everything at once when trying to translate. I totally agree that for deeper memory the electronic or paper dictionaries are best. I also think plain old make-em- yourself paper flash cards are best for real retention. I sort of became a Japanese App junkie but have reformed and deleted most from the iPod and only concentrate on a few great ones. I can get the others back if I want them but it diverts your attention to have too many. I really recommend Jishop Advanced and wishoTouch for the iPod. You can buy more example sentences for about $10. 00 for wishTouch that they made for their own program as they thought most example sentences are wrong.

    I use the iPod version but it just isn't as good as the computer version. It is mostly multiple choice and I feel that is too easy.

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  • gerhig

    Yeah, the iPod Touch might be cheaper than one of those Japanese dictionaries.
    But, what do you get: a piece of hardware with no contents at all. Those fucking expensive Japanese ones though contain a whole bunch of dictionaries and encyclopaedias. (Btw 広辞苑 for your awesome Steve Jews device is about 8500JPY)
    Nice idea, biz wiz.

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  • Anonymous

    Kotoba to search examples and learn from there. Lets say you want to know how to say “do you know” in japanese, Kotoba will give you many different example sentences on “do you know”. Very useful. To complement this, you want a good dictionary, you’ll need the program called Japanese (cost around 20), it also lets you study JPLT levels 1-4 using cards. For most other times, you want to study the most common words used in japanese, I recommend an app called J Sensei, it teaches you common words, along with a sentence and contains a person that speaks it out! This is your complete Japanese study guide for iPod/iPhone. Other than that, I’d recommend textfugu! :)

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  • Harry

    Wow I’m surprised. Ok for one people, if you want fluency and you are serious about Japanese, get an electronic dictionary, not an Ipod touch. Honestly. It has apps yes, but they are sucky in comparision to the absolute power of an electronic dictionary. I’m also very VERY surprised about them saying electronic dictionaries being bulky. Hardly! I fit it in my pocket perfectly, and its almost the same size as the touch (at least my model.) I would actually say the + of the touch isn’t the app’s for learning Japanese, but its the immersion capabilities it can bring, and the internet which can make for excellent SRS reps (if your learning it that way). I suggest both, however the electronic dictionary is more important if you only got one, trust me on this.

  • Anonymous

    koichi, you’re doin it wrong, you were suppose to show us good japanese dictionary’s not crappy apple products, sorry to say but most people don’t want apple stuff. (although I do love my Japanese app, and I use it all the time)

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  • Gianluca Tranchedone

    Talking about iOS learning tools, here’s a Japanese Grammar Dictionary for iPhone and iPod Touch: ;)

  • Japanesetools

    You know there is a version of Eijiro with readings for every kanji compound (both keywords and words in definitions; see my page for info). Use it with EBPocket app ($4.99). EBPocket has sophisticated lookup features, but no handwriting recognition. Add “Handwriting Notes” for another 230 yen, and, voila, you have handwriting recognition.

  • Adesh Bhanot

    hai i am adesh.actualy i have desprate need for japanese electronic dictionary because the core thing i want that i want to search kanjies’combinations vocablary drawing by hands on dictionary because in translation we find some difficult kanji vocab.if you are not able to recognaize the kanji how would you know the meaning but if you can draw kanjies with hands on dictionary then you easily find the meaning more over in very less time instead of writing with mouse on laptop and search online.can your i phone do this task what i want.(japanese to english and vise it user friendly how to use or oprate it.PLEASE REPLY AS EARLY AS POSIBLE on my mail

  • Seline

    Kotoba is a very good dictionary. It has the pronunciation and meaning in different languages, and possible kanji spellings too. Meanwhile, I didn’t even know about bulky electronic dictionaries. I’ve always used Kotoba.

  • Kenneth Chan

    A Japanese to English electronic dictionary is an important tool in learning Japanese.

  • Nacchi

    Thank you so much for the heads up!

    Right before I left for Japan I was planning on buying a electric dictionary in Japan but got an iPod touch instead. It was basically my EXTREMELY handy dictionary (gone are the days a single understood word leads to 2-3 min explanations of what that one word means!) AND I didn’t need my computer! I could email and upload pictures to facebook wherever I had internet connection!
    (but get an iPhone if you need internet connection on-the-go, it is extremely handy in sorta-emergency situations.. something about an international plan? My friend had it, powered her phone through SoftBank)

    ps. to anyone debating buying Nihongo (the dictionary): I downloaded Kotoba (free) and then downlaoded Nihongo ($10), and they are basically the same thing~

  • yankiwi

    How much memory do the Japanese and Kotoba apps take? IN other words do I have to buy an iPod Touch with more than 8 GB?

  • koichi

    I know Kotoba is around 100ish mb, and Imagine Japanese is the same. Pretty
    hefty for an iOS app, but 8gb is sitll plenty enough!

  • jack

    which electronic dictionary would you reccomend

  • jack

    hi great review i am in year 8 and studying japanese as one of my  electives so far i am going really good what brand of electronic dictionary would you recommend ? thanks jack

  • jack

    hi which electronic dictionary did you end up buying thanks

  • Test

    This is why you’re wrong: because you can’t change the battery in a failPod touch or failPhone. Once you own any sort of electronic dictionary, it becomes like an extension of your right arm, you use it *all the time*. Especially if you live in a foreign country (Japan in my case). I literally never leave the house without mine. Anyway, if you’re going about your business and your batteries run out, with a real electronic dictionary you can just go to a convenience store, buy two more, and carry on.

    If you’re using a non-Apple phone, then as long as you’re carrying a spare battery and remembering to keep it charged (good luck with keeping on top of that), you’re OK.

    If you’re using an Apple product, you’re screwed. What are you going to do, just stop your life and wait at Starbucks with your iTat plugged in until it’s charged?

    Apple = FAIL, for this amongst a long list of other reasons.

  • koichi

    I dunno – since the iPhone4 generation batteries last a long time. I rarely run out of batteries or even get close. And, if you do, you can always get battery packs that add time. Sure, if you’re using a dictionary constantly throughout the whole day, get some dictionary hardware… but if you use it a normal amount of time there’s no point, I think.

  • Gianluca Tranchedone

    @Test what the hell is going on in your brain?? First of all, electronic plugs exist in basically each and every building, therefore, no matter what smart phone you use, you can always plug it if you’re running out of battery. Secondly, every iPhone from the 3GS version on (supposing you got the latest iOS software and you don’t screw your battery by charging it every 5 minutes of usage) lasts at least one day most of the time (of course this depends on usage). The iPods, instead, least a much more, since they do not have phone capabilities, and are not connected to any network besides an eventual wi-fi connection (which is quite uncommon in Japan, besides home and an eventual working place). You don’t have to go anywhere to get new batteries: you just need a plug if you’re running out of battery! Moreover, since people usually charge their phones during the night they’re usually fully charged to last all day long. With a smartphone you don’t have to carry the dictionary with you all the time, you don’t happen to forget it anywhere since you keep it in your pocket all the time, and it’s much more confortable.

  • Test

    @algorangel:disqus So you live your whole life without going outside buildings? Buildings where you’re welcome to go plugging things in? You must live a very sheltered existence. I, and most other people, often go to this magical place called “the big blue room with the bright light in it”, otherwise known as “outside”. You should try visiting sometime. Oh wait, though… it doesn’t have mains sockets. Might not suit you, then.

    “You don’t have to go anywhere to get new batteries”

    …yeah, because you can’t. Because Uncle Steve (RIP) says you’re not clever enough to change your own battery. Maybe when you grow up, Mummy will let you have a big boy’s phone, with a battery you can access, and SD card slots?

    “they’re usually fully charged to last all day long”

    Wow, an entire day. PROTIP: I have a smartphone, I use it a lot, and yes, its battery lasts about one day of use. Which is one of several reasons why one thing I DON’T do with it is use it as an electronic dictionary. Because my actual electronic dictionary is better at that.

    Furthermore, the batteries of my electronic dictionary last for several months, but thanks to something called Murphy’s Law, I’d still rather be able to buy replacements whenever and wherever I need them.

    How is that Kool-Aid? Delicious? It must be, you sure seem to be chugging a lot of it.

  • Guest

    I generally enjoy and feel that Koichi’s opinions and advice hold a degree of value.


    I find answering a question with “you’re asking the wrong question” very annoying when the initial question is perfectly valid.

    I came to this page looking for advice on purchasing an electronic dictionary *because* neither iPhone nor Android apps are robust enough to act as a complete replacement for a well engineered electronic dictionary.

    Answering, “Oh, you don’t need one.  There is a (half-baked) app for that!” is a poor answer.

    I am disappointed that Koichi would offer such a juvenile and “hipster-esqe” non-answer to a legitimate question.

  • Test

    I couldn’t agree more. I also like Tofugu, so I’m a bit disappointed with this article – it’s a shame some people can’t see past the end of their own iPhone.

    For what it’s worth, my electronic dictionary is a Canon V903, and I recommend it highly. I previously had a Canon V90. Here’s why I like the V903:

    * Has animations showing, very big (pretty much filling the entire screen) the stroke order for most kanji (certainly I think it has them for all the Joyo kanji)
    * Also has “test mode” where you are shown the outline of a kanji and have to fill in the strokes yourself in the right order. This is great, but beware, it’s been deleted from the later V823 and V923 models. I haven’t checked whether it’s come back in anything later than those.
    * You can search for a whole word in kanji by writing them on the screen (you couldn’t do this on the earlier V80 and V90)
    * The entire screen is a touchscreen, so jumping etc is simple (though I think this applies to most electronic dictionaries now, even Casios which also have that mini-touchscreen next to the keyboard for writing kanji on)
    * Takes real AAA batteries, which you can buy almost anywhere, wherever you are in the world
    * Also works as an MP3 player and voice recorder with SD cards. Can be used as an MP3 player even when closed, due to external controls located on the hinge
    * Backlit (earlier Canons aren’t)
    * Strong metal case

    You can pick them up cheap these days, too. I’ve tried a number of other electronic dictionaries, and I still like the V903 best.

  • Anonymous

    For those not in Japan getting a iPhone or iPad is the good option, as it is very hard to get Japanese electronic dictionaries outside of Japan. However, as of June 2010 …

    The cheapest electronic dictionaries outside of Japan start around $120, but must be order online. Although, as easy as going to Costco. However, the cost of the models with more content and features are more expensive.

    The expensive ones include about 20 dictionaries, and the less expensive over 10. That is nothing to download. The Casio’s include much more content including Kanken Tests.

    They also include example sentences for checking. It is possible to look up various Japanese words to see an approximate translation. sinbun & yomu –> After you’re finished with the paper, please hand it to me. Shinbun wo yomi owattara watashi ni mawasite kudasai. (All the previous Japanese text uses the Japanese writing system.) The same can be done using English keywords. Both features make Electronic dictionaries a useful study tool.

    Casio, Sharp and Seiko all allow the listening of audio files on the players. They even allow the loading of Text media also. The Seiko allows the importing of user created dictionaries. Sharp electronic dictionaries can play videos.

    The are advantages to having using smart phones and cell phones as a primary dictionary, and there are advantages to using dedicated electronic dictionaries. Electronic dictionaries may not be as versatile as iPhone, but their features or content should be ignored.

  • Claire

    My denshi jisho that I bought in Yodobashi camera two years ago is dying, and I’ve been tempted to get an ipod touch instead… however as far as I’m aware, there aren’t really any kogojiten apps (for Classical Japanese) to take the place of the kogojiten on my denshi jisho, which I really quite vital.  Has anyone found one?  I’m sure they exist on Japanese itunes but I can’t download them in the UK.

  • Petra

    I do have to agree. I´m a big fan of smartphones and crazy about apps too, but sometimes you just won´t be able to use them… during exams for example. For obvious reasons they are banned when writing tests and I daresay that a  研 者新和英大辞典 is potentially more useful when working with specialised texts.

    That being said I really would like to find a 電子辞典 that comes with modular dictionaries to choose from (e.g. medical, scientific, japanese-german, etc.). Most electronic dictionaries have plenty of software preinstalled that I would never use and lack software I´d like to have… and those with good (and many) dictionaries are also the most expensive ones…

  • Anonymous

    The kanji recognition for this is many times better than the Chinese input on the iPhone (which is the only way to input kanji into free apps like Kotoba.  Though some paid apps include their own kanji recognition.)

  • Dianne A

    I just came across this article and I saw that some people are still asking for advice on what dictionary to get. Check this site out:

    I haven’t bought one since Kotoba for iPhone is enough for me at this point, but I’ll consider making a purchase when I can study Japanese full-time (which will be in a few months). I’ve read reviews on it on a couple of forums, and they say it’s pretty good. :)

  • Grzenio

    Tangorin ( is the best Japanese Dictionary. The most up to date, most features, and let’s you create your own vocabulary lists.

    Also, a kanji multi-element search not only for kanji but words from other dictionaries too.

  • shibalsekya

    hi, i was studying Japanese Language at university in France and i was student in Japan at Kyoto University. My speciality is Japanese Language and Japanalogy.

    Here is a fact:

    Most of university students in Japan (Japanese  people) who are learning English or another language (French, German, Italian, Spanish…) have an electronic dictionary. Even pre/middle/high-school students.

    In my university in France, most of students are using a electronic dictionary even my professors.Why ? Because we spend all the time to search words, kanji radical, sentences…maybe 4-5 hours a day.

    Paper dictionary: its a waste of time!Smart phone application: its not easy to use, poor features, battery life limit ! 

    Online dictionaries : Our professors do not recommend to use google search engine or online dictionary because the contents are mostly created by non-professional, students so the Japanese contents is not correct. You can use internet but ask to a Japanese people if you are not sure about the meaning or how to use each words, sentence, phrase.

    If Japanese studies is serious for you, you have to buy an electronic dictionary:

    Also i recommend you to buy a dictionary of Japanese grammar (not include in an electronic dictionary): try to search 日本語文型事典

    Hope my advices will be usefull for you.

  • Faith Helen Fury Brown

    Hear, hear.  *And* one relatively moderate drop of an electronic dictionary can be it’s end.   The iPhone/iPod Touch has masses of protective cover options and mine is still doing very well after two years of abuse.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Longcats errywhere.

  • Vincent

    I need a Japanese electronic dictionary for my Japanese exams this semester (studing at Dutch University). So I can’t use an iPhone/iPod Touch, because you might use the internet to cheat.

  • Sebastian

    I have read a number of the comments on this article and I have to say I actually agree with Koichi to some extent.

    I have an electronic dictionary (CASIO EX-Word Dataplus 5 XD-A6500), an Iphone 4S (had a HTC android device originally), a Macbook Pro and also a Nintendo DS Lite, as well as the Sonomama kanji dictionary “game” (it’s not a game though, is it). Since I have pretty much every device I could ever need, I am in a decent position to post a well-rounded critique.

    I was very lucky to have my friend buy a denshi jisho off amazon japan for me (second hand) and give it to me when I arrived in Japan for my study abroad. As a result, it only cost me about £160 for the device (it probably would’ve cost £250 had I bought it brand new in Japan and considerably more had I shipped it over).

    Had I been forced to pay over £200 for the device, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Yes, it is useful but no it isn’t perfect. A lot of words in the Japanese-Japanese dictionary section are not in the Japanese-English or English-Japanese sections. I’m sure some of you commenting here are Japanese masters but not everybody is at that point so having JP-EN and EN-JP dictionaries that are seriously lacking is a big drawback.

    Further, the example sentences in my denshi jisho are (apparently) terrible. I’ve lost count of the times that my Japanese friends have looked at example sentences and said “Yeah.. we would probably never say that/use that expression in real life”. Perhaps I just don’t have the right dictionaries installed but for the price, is it too much to ask? They want me to pay an extra £40 to install more dictionaries?

    Japanese electronic dictionaries are, let’s face it, made for Japanese people to learn English. My electronic dictionary is packed full of probably fantastic features but only about 40% are directly relevant to me. As my Japanese has progressed, I have moved onto the full Japanese dictionaries (including the business ones, computer terminology one and the scientific ones) but for many people they just won’t be necessary.

    My final thought is this:

    What’s the point of paying all that money when you can get pretty much the same features for free on the internet? Using the radical search on a website like is actually very beneficial because it forces you to learn the radicals in order to find the kanji you are looking for.

    You can learn the stroke order from the same website or use a free application like “Tagaini Jisho” on windows/mac (linux as well?) which has stroke orders for the vast majority of kanji built in.

    Everybody (not everybody but you know what I mean) has (or has access to) a computer, and more and more are getting smartphones as the technology becomes cheaper and more advanced. Why buy one of these devices when you can get 90% of what they offer from other (often free) applications and devices that you may already own.

    Some of you are knocking Koichi for trying to be a hipster or something but I think the people dismissing smartphones and iPhones are the ones trying to be hipsters.

    I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of Japanese language learners are not at the point that makes an electronic dictionary worth the purchase so why try to convince them otherwise? You’re not being paid by CASIO or Canon (or at least I hope not).

    Bottom line –

    *denshi jishos have keyboards? smartphones have keyboards (no they are not terrible so don’t make a meal out of nothing.

    *denshi jisho’s have expansive dictionaries with very good definitions? smartphones have access to the internet and with it a wide variety of websites (in both English and in Japanese) within which the same information can usually be found.

    *denshi jisho’s have 200 hours battery life? Nobody stays out of the house for that long so what’s so bad about charging your phone?

    *denshi jisho’s work as an MP3 player and have SD card slots? smartphones do the same thing and often come with an SD card included as part of the mobile contract plan.

    *denshi jisho’s have better handwriting recognition? True, but searching by radicals doesn’t take that much time.

    Basically, I just don’t think there are enough reasons to justify buying an electronic dictionary. I wish I hadn’t bought one now because I hardly use it.

    Just my opinion though – feel free to disagree!

  • d

    I disagree too u cant compare an app with a denshi jisho for God´s sake! its totally different! denshi jisho is the best investment if u really wanna learn japanese ipod-iphone not good for that

  • Allyson Larimer

    I know this is an old discussion but I just wanted to chime in.
    I work as an in-house interpreter. I know some other interpreters who use an iPad or an iPhone to look up words while interpreting but I really have never gotten then hang of it. I need my electronic dictionary. It is faster and more comprehensive than just about anything I have tried. (The ALC app may be a close second) I also work a lot in manufacturing and there are too many places where I don’t have signal for me to rely on a phone. Lastly, if I am in the meeting room, messing around on my phone just makes me look unprofessional.

    That being said, if I were still in college, I would probably just use my phone.

  • Jacinda Wilson

    I love my denshi dictionary – but that’s just because I’ve had it for almost 6 years now and I know its functions so well. Had smart phones and their apps been as accessible and advanced back when I bought my denshi jisho I would probably not have bothered with the denshi jisho….

    I have downloaded a free jisho onto my phone for the accessibility for when I don’t have my denshi on me – but it’s pretty well neglected when I’m at home. Then again before my denshi jisho I bought an $80 Nelson dictionary. It still gets used occasionally… but for the main part its neglected because my denshi jisho replaced it – so who knows :)

  • Vanessa

    I appreciate the input on your ipod stuff, and you make good points, but I also see flaws from further research/reviews. It’s fine that you gave your opinion, but I and many others I’m sure were looking for something related to shopping for the Electronic Dictionarys (what makes a winner or loser device). This is just a reader/random stranger’s critic, might want to add a little more related info to the subject inquired.

  • Seito

    Useless post. If you are serious about studying language, there is no substitute for a good Japanese/English/(Chinese) electronic dictionary. They have many features not available in any trendy app. Such as: history, quick jump, cross-reference, on-screen writing recognition, vocabulary by category, phrases by category, etc, etc, etc. The best online dictionary is free: Denshi Jisho. But it has no Chinese, little history, and requires that you be online to use it.

  • Katharina

    I am so glad to have found this entry on “electronic dictionaries”! I downloaded “Japanese” and “Kotoba” and especially the “Kanji handwriting tool” from “Japanese” is what I needed and why I would have bought an electronic dicitionary. It feels good to know to have saved about 150 Euros! Thank you so much for the hint!

  • daven

    great just what we need another useless advertisement

  • Ian

    I totally understand, I would rather use my iPhone instead of a dedicated electronic dictionary, but all my professors don’t allow cell phones during class. (I know right? :P) So I just use it out of necessity, because for some reason they’re OK…